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open source

 Lately, 'open source' has gotten a lot of attention.  Wikipedia- one of the largest and most well-known open source websites- defines the term as, "practices in production and development that promote access to the end product's source materials."  Software developers have bridged gaps by making more and more programs open-source, allowing customers to customize, and often improve, their own experience with the product.   

Open-source has not always been so high-tech or complex, though.  When you think about it, cook books can be seen as some of the best and most prolific examples of open-source philosophy.  This is what I mean: 

I work in a diner that sells pie.  Every so often, I'll buy a slice to take home and enjoy.  It's always a great experience, but I am only buying the product- the slice of pie.  A couple months ago, I bought the book pictured below (Betty Crocker's New Picture Cook Book, circa 1961.)   

It turns out that this cook book has an entire section devoted to pie, including step-by-step directions for making crust, ideas on how to make your pie stand out at a dinner party, and more than ten pages of illustrated recipes.  Now I have the pie source, and I can make pie for myself, and even tweak the recipe to make the pie more to my liking.

Last week, I made a petite applescotch pie, tweaking the recipe to make the smaller size and allow for a few small substitutions.  The payoff was tasty, and better than any of the pie I've ever bought at work.  It's a successful process with a great result.  Of course, there are some gaps in this analogy- namely, I haven't been buying pie from Betty Crocker, and the cook book did not come from my work.  I'd argue that the analogy would work quite well pitting a Betty Crocker cake mix against a from-scratch cake made with a recipe out of my cook book.

So, then, if open-source is not such a new idea, why is it getting so much attention?  In most cases, it's because of the growing role technology has with the idea of open-source.  In effect, the internet lets people 'make their recipe,' tweak it, and then send it back to the original source.  This results in changes made at a larger scale that affect the experience of many, not just yourself.  Some aspects remain the same, though, including the exhilaration of taking control of a process you formerly had no control of.  Undoubtedly, a homemade pie tastes at least a little better because you, yourself went to the trouble to make it.